Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Frankenstein's monster

Frankenstein's monster (sometimes Frankenstein's creature or the Frankenstein monster) is a creature first appearing in Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. In the novel it has no name and is variously referred to as "the creature," "the fiend," "the daemon," or "the wretch." After the novel was adapted to film, the monster became best known in popular imagination as "Frankenstein". However this was incongruous with the original novel — Frankenstein was the name of the creature's creator, and not the monster itself.

In Shelley's novel

In the novel, Victor Frankenstein, eldest son of Alphonse and Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein (who died when Victor was a child), builds the creature through methods of science (he was a chemistry major at University of Ingolstadt, but dropped out) and alchemy (largely Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus) which are not clearly described. Immediately upon bringing the creature to life, however, Frankenstein flees from it in horror and disavows his experiment. Abandoned, frightened, and completely unaware of who or what he is, the monster wanders through the wilderness searching for someone who would understand and shelter him.

He finds brief solace by hiding out in the wood shed of a remote cabin inhabited by a large family. While they are unaware of his existence, he learns every part of their lives by eavesdropping on their conversations; he comes to think of them as his own family. He develops the power of speech from listening to the family teach their language to an Arabian daughter-in-law, and very quickly becomes eloquent and well-mannered.

One day, he musters the courage to finally make his presence known. He introduces himself to the family's patriarch, their blind grandfather, and experiences kindness and acceptance for the first (and last) time, as the blind man can not see his "accursed ugliness," and so treats him as a friend. When the rest of the family returns, however, they are terrified of him and drive him away. Heartbroken, he renounces all of mankind and swears revenge on his creator, Frankenstein, for bringing him into the world.

The monster searches for Frankenstein relentlessly, guided by some papers which were in the pocket of the clothing he took from his creator's rooms. Upon arriving near Frankenstein's home town, he meets and tries to befriend a small boy, William, hoping that the innocent youth will not be prejudiced against him. The boy is instantly frightened and threatens to get his father—Monsieur Frankenstein—and thus the creature learns that the boy is related to his enemy. The creature kills him, and, in a further gesture of hatred against humanity, frames the murder on a girl sleeping nearby by pinning a locket on her person. The girl happens to be the Frankenstein family maid, Justine Moritz. She goes to the gallows because Frankenstein decides it would be futile to confess his experiment, as no one would believe him. Alphonse Frankenstein soon dies of grief.

Intent on his own revenge, Frankenstein hunts the creature, and finds him in a remote ice cave. Here the monster tells Frankenstein his story and pleads with him to create a female creature so he can flee from humanity with one of his own kind. Frankenstein agrees, but relents just before finishing the mate, aghast at the possibility of creating a race of monsters. Enraged, the creature swears he will destroy everything Frankenstein holds dear.

He makes good on his promise by killing Victor's best friend, Henry Clerval, and later on Frankenstein's wedding night, by killing his bride, Elizabeth. With nothing left to live for, Frankenstein dedicates his life to hunting down and destroying his creation. He scours the country obsessively, unaware that his creation is stalking his every move. The search ends in the Arctic Circle when Frankenstein loses control of his dogsled and falls into ice cold water, contracting severe pneumonia. He is rescued by a ship exploring the region, and relates the entire story to its captain, Walton, before succumbing to his illness and dying. The creature boards the ship intent on taking his final revenge, but is overcome with grief and remorse upon finding Frankenstein dead, having lost the only family he has ever known. He pledges to travel to "the Northernmost extremity of the globe," and there commits suicide.


Few details of the creature's physical appearance are given in the original novel, except that he is about eight feet in height, has yellowish skin and eyes and flowing black hair, and is hideous.

The image of Frankenstein's monster in popular culture comes mostly from Boris Karloff's portrayal in the 1931 movie Frankenstein, as a lumbering, flat-headed giant with electrodes in his neck. Further interpretations have added green skin (because of Karloff's makeup, which was green so that it would show up better on the black and white film) and a characteristic scar across the forehead.


The creature is usually depicted as a loathsome fiend, a born murderer. However Victor in fact created a sensitive, emotional and gentle creature whose only aim is to share his life with another sentient being like himself, to love. It was only through the process of learning from mankind, through his negative experiences with other people, that he became "evil". He was taught to behave the way others expected of him, based on his hideous appearance. This is a subtle and important distinction that is usually lost in later translations of the work. Victor did not create a monster (except in his own mind); Victor created a gentle, intelligent sentient being. It was mankind that turned him into a monster. The creature believes people should judge him by his personality and not be prejudiced against him because he has an obscure look.

As metaphor

As a metaphor the creature has often been portrayed representing various social, environmental, and psychological themes. Interpretations include the danger of man playing God and the dangers of toying with what you do not understand. This interpretation could possibly be of merit, as the novel was written just at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the critics of which claimed that scientists and businessmen were using the natural world in perverse, destructive ways. He has also been cited as a metaphor for personal responsibility; Victor Frankenstein errs in giving the creature life without consideration for the consequences, and is destroyed by his refusal to acknowledge and deal with his mistake.

Another metaphor involves the fears of a young woman author and the natural consequences of love: children. The creature was born good, all it wanted was to love another creature like its self, and to be loved by its creator. But it was the creature's encounters with other men that taught it to be evil. If the creature has a metaphor, it represents the natural fears of a mother to be. It was not science, or the act of creation, that made an evil creature; it was mankind who taught an otherwise good and innocent creature to be evil. Victor Frankenstein errs not in the act of creation (science), but in how he and others treat the creation, how it is "raised" (see Original sin).

(Via Wikipedia.)


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